Chapter Twenty Eight

Chapter Twenty Eight

Let’s see, who will come find me first? Sheen thought, my money’s on Jacques. Good. He’ll let me yell at him.

No one showed up. She sat squarely on the floor of her hut, sure that, at any minute, some Council member would knock. She amused herself for a while thinking of what that would sound like, depending on the person. That led her to the thought of what they might be saying of her. Maybe that’s why no one had come yet—they were too busy discussing her problems in worried tones, like her mother and Jay used to do.

Eventually she tired of the hard ground and stood up, noticing as she did so just how dirty her hands were from fingering the canvas floor. When her mother was around she swept all the time, and Sheen had at first considered the lack of someone to nag about chores the only highlight of the draft.

Staring at her filthy fingers, though, an old taunt ran through her head and she seized the long unused broom from the corner. Furiously she brushed the dirt and the slush into a pile smack in the middle of the room. Once she cleaned out the corner, she shoved it all toward the door and then whacked it outside, just as Jacques parted the canvas and walked in.

“Sheen…” he began, as he brushed the dirt off of his pants.

“Go away,” she snapped, not even apologizing for the accident. She’d wanted him to visit so she could rant about things, but now that he was there she felt sick, like she didn’t want to be her own body, in her own house, and thought that if he went away she could maybe get outside of herself.

The only problem was that Jacques wouldn’t go away. “No.”

She leaned on the broom, feeling limp and tired. “Please.”

Hearing that she was actually serious, not being sarcastic, he started to go and then stopped. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Everything. Go away.”

He came further into the room, only inches in front of her. “Sheena—“

“Don’t call me that!” she screamed, taking him by the shoulders and pushing him away. He took several steps back but refused to fall.

“I just want to help you.”

“I don’t need your pity! I’m a person, alright, I’m a person named Sheen. Not a dirty sneak-elf whose mother named her the most common of all sneak-elf names ever.”

He said nothing and made no movement toward the door

“MY NAME IS SHEEN!” she said for further emphasis.

Still he said nothing.

“Now get out.”

“No.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Maybe I’m worried about you.”

“Ooh, excellent.”

“I’m serious.”

She waited. When he didn’t continue, she said impatiently, “well, are you going to lecture me?”

“You wouldn’t listen to me, would you?”

“NO. So leave now, please.”

“If you really want me to—“

She brandished the broom. “Out.”

He backed out the door. “I’m still willing to talk.”

“You moron.”

He left entirely. When his footsteps faded, she dropped the broom and bolted out the door, suddenly wanting to be anywhere but home.

***

After Jacques left, Nora and Zena looked at each other. “I don’t actually think you’ve ruined everything,” Zena said.

“Really?”

“Dumb, but not disastrous,” Zena reassured her.

“I’m not sure if that was a compliment, but thanks,” Nora said, emitting a little nervous laughter.

“I’m not really sure either.” Both of them smiled weakly, not knowing what else to do.

“So…is the meeting over, or do you think that they’ll come back after Jacques finishes smacking her down?” Nora asked.

“Sheen? Are you kidding? What is this, some crap story? Sheena is not going to listen to anything he says. She’ll come back tomorrow and we’ll try and pretend like it didn’t happen until she blows up again.”

“You make it sound like we’re in some kind of viscous cycle or something.”

“Worse. We’re in an unpredictable viscous cycle,” Zena explained glumly.

“And it sucks.”

“And it sucks,” she agreed.

***

Jacques trudged back to the Council House, not because he felt like sparring with Zena and Nora but would rather see them than the missionaries and his own conscience floating around his shack. Because that’s what it is, a shack, and I hate it there. Dad tried to say it wasn’t, but it is, and I’m just about as worthless as that thing when it’s cold.

He was lost in the replay of a certain scene, days ago, as he walked out of the Dirty Hills.

“Why do I always have to rescue you from yourself?”  The image of her look when he said that—of the hope or gratitude or whatever she meant to say to him—hit him harder every time he saw it, punching him mercilessly in the gut. I meant it. And she meant it. So take me up on it!

***

By the time Jacques came in through the door wearing the blankest and saddest look Zena had ever seen, they had a plan ready.

“So we’ve been thinking,” Nora pounced first, “we really oughta send someone over to the Irkas to talk. Just so they know we aren’t like planning to attack them or something. I mean if someone did see me, they might get the wrong impression—“

“We sit around and talk about cooperation, and Atkin knows that, but if we take the first step–” Zena cut in.

“Fine. Well, you two are versed in how to go behind the Council’s back, what do you need my permission for?”

“Because we want you to do it.”

That made him pause. “No, it’s your project, you’re the leaders here, you do it.”

“I don’t think—“ Nora began.

“That’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever said,” Zena explained bluntly, “Nora can’t go. I most definitely can’t go. We can’t send someone else, that’ll look too bad. How’s Sheen?”

“Wouldn’t talk to me. She’ll mope for at least a day.”

“I rest my case. She’d probably get angry and blow her mouth off anyway, even if she did agree to go, which she wouldn’t. You’re the only person with anything resembling a cool head in this Council, and that includes Atkin.”

“Really?”

“Yep.” Making a plan, Zena was much cheerier then she had been in days.

“What about your countrymen? We’ll be playing right into their hands.” Jacques could feel himself being convinced; it was a good idea to do something, and compliments never hurt.

“Screw them. I’ll issue a statement if they ask, but in reality, we only cause trouble for Irkas.” She also hadn’t been this frank in days. Now, this is what I’ve wanted to do from the beginning.

“And for Council members they hate.”

“So what can they do, egg my house? We don’t even get a big enough egg ration.”

Nora sniggered. Zena’s careless and confident attitude was addicting. “So that’s a yes, Jacques?”

“Sheen’s really going to be pissed off.”

“And?”

He sighed. “When should I leave?”

“Tomorrow morning, too get there about one, when there won’t be any meals or rituals to get in the way of the process.” Nora was thrilled that her knowledge of when was it not a good idea to barge into a Kenazian camp was coming in handy. She’d certainly had her share of causing awkward interruptions.

Jacques thought they were both taking it way too lightly, and that Nora’s “process” would probably be several uncomfortable and stiff paragraphs getting absolutely nothing done, but what the hell. “I’ll go.”

“Great! Maybe you can stop in on our new friends on the way back!” Nora grinned. They both looked at her and tried hard not to roll their eyes. “I was kidding. I’ll tell you exactly how to not disturb Trish.”

“Good idea.”

 

 

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